Jonathan Majors launched into my personal zeitgeist last year with his transcendent performance in the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco. This was the first time I had encountered him as an actor, and I was blown away. I was immediately scrolling to his IMDb page to see what was coming down the pipeline. His performance was a star making turn along the lines of DeNiro in Mean Streets. Majors created a raw magnetism along with a vulnerability which help make him one of most talented actors to continue to watch.
This year, Majors hit us with a one two punch in Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods and HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Majors continues his journey in exploring the complexity of black masculinity while intersecting with some heavy topics. In Lovecraft Country, his character Atticus navigates the toxicity of racism as he return home from war and navigates one of the best sci-fi journeys on television. In Da 5 Bloods, he plays David and accompanies his father and other soldiers his father fought with in Vietnam to retrieve their friend’s remains and some left-behind treasure.
Majors gives two very different performances in both films that stand out as the best of 2020. He explores two very unique father/son relationships and gets to paint the experience of different black men from different eras. He gives context and grace to each of these experiences while hitting some very strong emotional moments. Jonathan Majors proves why he is one of the best actors in the year 2020 with both these films. Majors also snagged one of the best Marvel villain roles for the next Ant-Man and the Wasp film. He is an electric performer, and I am excited to share our conversation below:
Awards Daily: Lovecraft Country‘s Atticus is a really dynamic character. How did you prepare for this role?
Jonathan Majors: The immediate connections were Charles White who was a famous painter in Chicago. White was painting black culture during the same time as the show but in New York. He had a way capturing black folk, especially men. There was something about the way he captured a vulnerability with men. The way Atticus stands with his hands on his hips was a connection directly to Charles White. There’s an image of all these black all together that embodies the way I worked to personify Atticus.
I bought the book of his paintings for Jurnee too. In White’s paintings you see all the different black folk represented, the patriarch, the matriarch, children; he created images that are indelible and representative of our experience.
Charles White was also a veteran at at the time which influenced my connection to his work for Atticus. There is a speech Frederick Douglas has during the civil war, and his speech about the fact that they are not allowed to fight with their white counterparts. Atticus is caught in this world and he has to navigate how to show and be a soldier and fight for what he thinks is correct while navigating how he is treated as a black man in this army.
I looked at what it meant to be a young black odd child in Chicago. Atticus is cursed with being different. He lives in books, and escapism, two pieces which put him at odds with people also. Finally you have a complex dynamic with him and his father. It really got to be explored, that relationship is the only relationship in his upbringing. There is a right of passage with father and son, and it deals with our psychology. You are watching an archetype of that play out, and watching him step into his manhood. The arc of that is something I had to find early on, he is a drifter early on, and is finding his way.
AD: Lovecraft Country and Da 5 Bloods are both harrowing stories about black soldiers who fought in war. How did you prepare for your involvement in both of these films and exploring your character’s connection to these lived experiences?
JM: With each character conflict was at the center. Both wars are very visceral. In Lovecraft Country Atticus has more of an external struggle. In Da 5 Bloods David has an internal struggle. The way I approached that was, it was closer to home. My grandfather served in the Korean War and one served in Vietnam There is that warrior DNA in us. That is something you have seen and experienced. I carry the name of men who have fought in World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam, and that made it that much more personal. I have watched videos of war veterans coming home. I watched my uncle navigate the gentility in the way he worked with my grandfather. War takes something from you and pauses you, it will arrest your development. In both cases with both conflicts. The whole journey is to rehabilitate. It makes sense that you have so much sense to go into war but now how to come out of war. Rehabilitating himself with his relationship with himself on his own.
In Lovecraft Atticus can longer hide his demons he has to let go of all the pain he is navigating on the inside he has to navigate. David is navigating his father’s connection to war, and understanding his experience, and how this connects to his relationship. I leveraged my connection with my family to understand both roles and how they would impact my characters.
AD: Each project explores father/son relationships in different ways. How did you choose to portray those relationships as an actor?
JM: In both cases Michael and Delroy both brought a humanity to each role. They both brought a trust to the role, and there was humanity. Atticus’ journey with his father was different because he experienced physical abuse that separates those experiences with their fathers.
I just realized this, or this just popped into my head, in both cases the mother is absent. The primary thing with both the life of Atticus and David is that the central mother figure is not a part of their story on screen. More so it’s just not father/son but rather father and son vs. the world. You try to fill up the missing parts of the relationship.
With Michael I was able to see and receive a vulnerability and cowardice in Montrose. In order for their relationship to be whole, Atticus has to be calm. Because he made that so clear when they are together, the only time Atticus is whole is when he is with his father. Because Montrose had those elements so clearly. Atticus could fill in those parts and move forward in those relationships. There were moments when I did scenes, where Atticus is playing the father role he and Montrose are often switching roles toward one another. That goes with the absence of the mother, Atticus has to step up.
AD: I’m excited for you to play Kang. He’s a really interesting villain in Marvel’s history. How does it feel to be part of this project?
JM: It feels great. It feels exciting, and I get butterflies thinking about it and just being part of something this big is exciting.
Lovecraft Country is now streaming on HBO Max. Da 5 Bloods is streaming on Netflix.